Designer’s Diary: Cakebread & Walton – Airship Pirates

Airship Pirates
Airship Pirates is a complete game powered by the Heresy Engine (compatible with Victoriana) and published by Cakebread & Walton.
By Peter Cakebread

Welcome to the fifteenth Designer’s Diary, a regular column where designers are given the opportunity to take readers on an in-depth ride through the design and development process of their system, setting, or product.

Designer’s Description
Airship Pirates RPG
is a steampunk extravaganza, based on the work of the Seattle steampunk band, Abney Park. It is set in a weird and wonderful post-apocalyptic future. The mass of the population are huddled in grim Neovictorian Change Cage cities ruled by the servants of a fanatical Emperor; the nomadic Neobedouin wander the wilderness in their gaudy caravans; and the exotic Skyfolk live in floating cities in the sky.

Players get to play the part of airship pirates! You take to the skies in fantastical airships, living a life of adventure and danger. Aside from the richly described 2150 setting, the airship pirates aren’t just any old sky pirates – they can become time-traveling airship pirates – able to travel through time, and possibly screw up the timelines for everybody.

You might play an automaton, a wealthy aristocrat, a lowly worker, a mad inventor or an exotic beast dancer – whoever you play, be prepared for cinematic action – thrilling chases, swashbuckling action and gripping adventure.

The game system is an adaptation of the Heresy Engine (used in Victoriana 2nd Edition and Dark Harvest, also from by Cubicle 7) and is being published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment. Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton are the writers and line developers, while Captain Robert himself, lead singer of Abney Park, has been responsible for coordinating the art and layout of the book. The finished work is a lush, 300 page, full color hardback – and it looks totally AWESOME!

Love of the genre, the music and quickly seeing the potential of setting a RPG in the world described in the songs of Abney Park. When we pitched, what we didn’t know was how keen Captain Robert or Angus at Cubicle 7 would be – we needn’t have worried, they loved the idea right from the start! It has been great working with the Captain – he has thrown his considerable energy and talent behind the project from the beginning, and the end result has exceeded our already high expectations.

The primary influence is of course Abney Park and the themes contained in their music. Additionally, there is a wealth of steampunk literature, comics and films, old and new wave, and steampunk events, run by enthusiastic and knowledgeable folks. And we both love pirates!

We had material from Captain Robert and the music of Abney Park as our starting point. Aside from that we immersed ourselves in the wider genre. But it was a change of pace from our alternate historical line, Clockwork & Chivalry, in as much as we got to do some culture building and world design pretty much from scratch.

Art Direction
The art is jaw-dropping! Captain Robert put a call-out, and the response was phenomenal. Extremely talented artists quickly hopped on board and have used the opportunity to showcase their stunning work. Some of the art we asked for specifically to illustrate specific things in the game world, other pieces inspired us when writing the game. The art should serve as “adventure seeds” for GMs just as much as the written text.

Of course, unlike other RPGs, we also have the songs, which form “illustrations” for the game just as much as the art does.  You could say that Abney Park’s “Airship Pirate” song is our theme tune (, but most of their songs, especially on their latest three albums, had some sort of impact on the game, if only subliminally.

Gaming Experience
You get to play heroes, or anti-heroes in a screwed up future. The combat has crunch, the feel is cinematic and the setting is evocative. From the sleazy bars of High Tortuga, through the breath-taking wilderness, the sprawling cities and the wondrous Skylofts there is plenty of opportunity for peril, investigation, ship-to-ship combat, boarding actions, plunder, fame and infamy. If the world isn’t big enough, there is the option to visit the past – from steampunk Victoriana to diesel punk dystopias, the players can impact past events and possible futures. For the GM there is a host of adventure ideas and guidance to help run adventures set in 2150 and beyond. The main book includes a short adventure. Ruined Empires, the first published adventure will be released about the same time as the rulebook – a jaunt that includes treasure hunting, dastardly plots and a visit to Momma Chiffon’s House of Lard.

Gaming in a setting based on a world sung about by a band is pretty unique.

Development Process
We started off with a pile of Abney Park albums. Then Captain Robert revealed he had a partially-written novel, The Wrath of Fate, set in the Abney Park world, so we added that to the mix. We listened and read and then sat down to pull everything together, fill in the gaps. We decided what needed developing, how the different cultures fitted together and where airship pirates fitted into it. We did a lot of sending ideas back and forth with Captain Robert. Sometimes we’d send him ideas and he’d say “Awesome!” At other times, he’d say “this doesn’t quite work, I think it should be like this.”  We drew vast spider diagrams, jotted down oodles of notes, wrote, rewrote and tested rules until we were sure they worked. We used the Heresy Engine rules that are used in Cubicle 7’s Victoriana 2nd Edition, but they were streamlined and tweaked to fit the setting, and we needed to add lots of new rules for airship and vehicle combat, time travel, etc. We constantly read and tweaked each others’ writing,  and if one of us was stuck on something, the other would take it up and run with it for a bit. This is the biggest single project we’ve ever tackled, so there were times it all seemed a bit overwhelming, but we kept each other going. And eventually we had a massive manuscript which we sent off to Robert for him to turn into a book. We’d previously seen a lot of the artwork, but we never expected the book to turn out as gorgeous as it has done. Once everything was in place, we did the a final proof-read together and then – rather than collapsing in a gibbering heap – we wrote the Ruined Empires adventure. Then we collapsed in a gibbering heap!

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